It took two votes and a lot of hand wringing on the part of some commissioners, but in the end the Benicia Planning Commission voted 5-1 to overturn a that the owners of 410 West J Street either repair three wood windows or replace them with new wood windows instead of vinyl windows.
The applicants, Claudia and Julian Fraser, were very happy with the decision and called their window contractor immediately after commissioners voted. “I think the job can get done in a day,” said Julian Fraser. The new windows are paintable vinyl and are the same size as the existing windows so no additional framing will be required to install them.
The Fraser’s were issued a permit to replace seven windows in their home but were then told they couldn't move forward when it was discovered that five of the windows they were proposing to change in their historic district home were wood and not vinyl. When the permit was issued city staff believed all the windows being replaced were vinyl.
At its October 27 meeting, the HPRC, in what some commissioners considered a compromise decision voted to allow replacement of two wood windows on either side of the house with new vinyl windows because they weren't visible from the street but required that the three wood windows on the front of the home remain wood.
It was that compromise, in part, that may have led to the Planning Commission overturning their recommendation. Commission chair Brad Thomas noted that he spent an hour at the site looking at the front and side windows as well as the prominent front window that is already vinyl.
“The windows on the side, they can be vinyl,” said Thomas. “Walking down the street, going from both directions, when I look up, and when I look at the front of the building I saw the windows on the side that would be replaced with vinyl as well.”
Thomas also noted that the prominent window on the front of the house will continue to be vinyl and that all the other windows in the home are vinyl.
Historic Preservation Review Commission member Toni Haughey voted against the measure when it was before the HPRC because she was against allowing any vinyl replacement windows.
“If we want to maintain our historic fabric and we want things done properly, and you have windows that were inappropriate, and you want to take those windows out then you need to replace them with the appropriate windows which is wood,” said Haughey.
All the commissioners were aware of the magnitude of overturning a decision of the Historic Preservation Review Commission. This a decision by the HPRC has been appealed to the Planning Commission.
"...I would like to see the wood maintained,” said commissioner Don Dean. “I would like to see the decision by the HPRC supported tonight.”
It was also noted that Thursday’s decision wouldn’t be precedent setting because each project is considered separately and the facts of each project will be different.
The first vote, to support the Historic Preservation Review Commission decision, was a tie with commissioners Oakes, Thomas and Sherry voting no and commissioners Rick Ernst, Dean and Lee Syracuse voting yes.
The discussion was reopened after the deadlocked vote. Commissioners Ernst and Syracuse were swayed by the discussion and when a second motion was made, this time to support the appeal, they voted in favor of the applicants.
Later in the meeting planner Mark Rhoades said the process for issuing permits has been changed in order to avoid the same confusion that accompanied this application. He said permits wouldn’t be issued until someone from the planning department can inspect the proposed building site to confirm all the details included in the permit application.